Led by Professor Ewan Fernie, Chair of Shakespeare Studies and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute.
Together with RSC director Richard Twyman, who has previously done theatre work in Syria and ‘Le Jongle’ refugee camp in Calais, Ewan Fernie and Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes) are developing Marina, a response to Shakespeare’s little-performed Pericles. This new work epitomises the collaboration’s vision of integrating the creative with the academic to forge a new kind of theatre.
The working synopsis
Fleeing to Europe in search of opportunity and escape from a precarious situation in their homeland, Marina and her parents, Pericles and Thaisa, are separated and scattered across the globe before winding up on the same street, Narrow Way, in Seven Sisters, London.
Adopted by a displaced Syrian businessman named Antioch, Marina had been adjusting well to life in the UK until she was suddenly and mysteriously trafficked into sexual slavery in the Seven Sisters brothel on Narrow Way. What ensues is a compelling story of self-discovery, physical and mental suffering, and a tumultuous family reunion. At the heart of it all is Marina’s own ‘radical chastity’ and the challenge it presents to everyone she encounters, and to English culture more broadly.
Marina came about through the desire to explore the themes of grief and music in Pericles, as well as exploring the significance of Marina to the original play. As it developed the project became more and more about reimagining Shakespeare’s work to be more powerful and pertinent in today’s society. The work is centred on the concept of ‘radical chastity’, which ‘rejects the given forms of life and love in the hope of something better’, and explores how ‘the very thing [chastity] that so often secures an oppressive patriarchy might offer grounds for resistance’ (Fernie & Craik). Far from being the mere remnant of bygone superstitions, chastity remains an important issue in our culture to this day, for example, within our own families. It is also the most visible point of cultural difference between the West and other societies, particularly those in the Middle East, a fact which cannot be ignored in the context of Pericles’ geographic setting.
During the time of writing, the global migrant crisis also exploded, and the writers saw the opportunity to start a dialogue on the issue; Pericles, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family scattered by environmental turmoil and political persecution. Marina aims to ‘explore how intimate forms of disconnectedness are mirrored and refracted through political exile and geographical segregation, and vice versa’ (Fernie & Craik).
In April, this work-in-progress was put through its paces in an intensive six-day research and development workshop. This event involved a cast of actors from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, which resulted in lively engagement on political, personal and theatrical levels, continuing the process of research. The workshop was led by Richard Twyman, Ewan Fernie and Katharine Craik, and also involved theatre practitioners and academics with expertise ranging from stage management to depression to the migration crisis. This workshop offered a unique opportunity to continue developing the play through an ‘incredibly intense and productive process of research’ (Fernie). At the start of the six-day process, the play consisted of a synopsis and several scenes; at the end, the play was set more securely in the present, and Marina was a more central and powerful protagonist.
Professor Ewan Fernie described the experience: ‘[The workshop] was challenging and enriching, and the power of this concerted cross-institutional collaboration was a real eye-opener – it was thrilling.’
Marina is now in development with the RSC, and further work is planned around documenting this collaborative approach to theatre-making and research. Fernie and Craik are writing about the project for a new book published by the Arden Shakespeare imprint and appropriately titled New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity.